In August 2015, after 10 years of living in the United States, I received an email from my immigration attorney asking me if I was ready to file for American citizenship. I soon realized I didn’t know if I was.

© Myriam Abdelaziz I Institute

Ready to become an American citizen: what did that even mean? Was this who I was now: a potential American? Having lived in New York for a decade I knew I was ready to be called a New Yorker. But an American? That wasn't anywhere as clear. I took the time to think about it, wondering if I would fit in, wondering if this is where my heart was.

I was born in Egypt, grew up in Switzerland, and spent most of my life in France. Because of my multicultural origins, I always felt like an outcast. In Egypt I was not a real Egyptian because I lived outside of the country for too long and was perceived as “tainted.” In France I was too brown to be considered a blue-blood French citizen. In each country, there was no place for me to feel fully integrated and accepted.

© Myriam Abdelaziz I Institute

I didn’t want to be an outsider anymore. I was longing for a place that would feel like home and being an “alien” in possession of a green card wasn’t the experience I was going for.

A year later I still had my doubts, so I decided to take the road, to go meet the rest of the country, to go meet “The People”. I wanted to find out who the Americans were and what it meant to be an American. I drove 10,000 miles over the course of 3 months and photographed the people I randomly met during the trip.

I was welcomed everywhere and people were eager to help me with my project, proposing itineraries, offering hospitality in their homes, and putting me in touch with other contacts who could help me down the road. My doubts about fitting in as an American faded pretty fast and instead a sense of belonging grew in me.

© Myriam Abdelaziz I Institute
© Myriam Abdelaziz I Institute

This is kind of a catalog of Americans from all paths of life, background, age, gender, ethnicity, religion, social class, political affiliation and sexual orientation. I photographed them throughout the country, just as they are, just as I met them, trying to understand them, trying all the while to see them as one by bringing them together instead of separating and labeling them so the viewer gets the sense of diversity, presenting a complex community layered of contradictions instead of pointing out individuals which would stress the social division further.

While my images are dedicated to unfolding the sheer complexity and variety of the American identity, I have decided not to include any of the subject names; both to respect their privacy, and, more importantly, to protect them from the all-too-easy categorizing triggered by first and last names, and to underscore their standing as representatives of the American story - rather than a haphazard collection of individual biographies.

© Myriam Abdelaziz I Institute
© Myriam Abdelaziz I Institute

While taking these photographs throughout my journey, my doubts about fitting in as an American faded. As the days passed, I felt a deeper sense of belonging growing within me. I was in a land where if you are not a Native American you are an immigrant. I related to a place where most of its people came from somewhere else looking for a better life. And it was this multicultural heritage that I could connect and identify with. Despite the problematic policies and actions of a system built upon capitalism, I wanted to be a part of the shared strength and resilience that I saw in the people I met. To me, they represented the collective idea of the American identity and it was that realization that encouraged me to officially become a citizen.

A month after I returned from the last sortie, Donald Trump was elected as the new President of the United States, leaving the world surprised by the choice of the Americans: Who voted for him? What did that mean? What was going to happen now?

© Myriam Abdelaziz I Institute
© Myriam Abdelaziz I Institute
© Myriam Abdelaziz I Institute

During the Trump era, which effectively began with the “Muslim Ban,” I felt the American ideals that I had so carefully considered and cherished had been betrayed by my government. For the first time in my experience, people became noticeably divided along political and racial lines. In an effort to better understand how we Americans could be so similar, yet so different, I decided to continue photographing through the country to meet more people.

To discourage the involuntary attribution of particular attitudes to particular names or quotes, the people in the portraits are unnamed and unallocated. I invite the viewer to organize and sequence their own vision of a complex community filled with diversity.

 

By Myriam Abdelaziz

Myriam Abdelaziz is a French/American photographer born in Cairo, Egypt. She graduated from the International Center of Photography in 2006 and has been based in New York City since. 

 

We the people, by Myriam Abdelaziz, is published by Jet Age Books.

© Myriam Abdelaziz I Institute
© Myriam Abdelaziz I Institute

Read more: The Pleasures of Gay Life in 1950s Fire Island

 

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